Ivanka Trump ready to 'cheer' at Olympics. Is she ready to chat with North Korea, too?
SEOUL — Ivanka Trump arrived in the South Korean capital Friday to serve as the honorary leader of the U.S. delegation at the 2018 Winter Olympics closing ceremony.
She now also finds herself squarely in the middle of Olympian political maneuvering by President Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.
Hours after the White House announced Trump had picked his daughter and senior adviser for the Olympic honor, North Korea informed South Korea that it is sending Kim Yong-chul, the former military intelligence chief who the South believed played a role in the 2010 attack on a South Korean naval vessel, to lead the North’s delegation.
South Korea President Moon Jae-in was set to hold a dinner in Trump’s honor at the Blue House later Friday. White House officials said Trump would spend Saturday and Sunday in Pyeongchang attending competitions, celebrating Team USA athletes and enjoying the pageantry of the closing ceremony.
What remains to be seen is if she will have any interaction with the North Korea delegation on the sidelines of the Games as Moon continues to press the Trump administration to lower the temperature in the ongoing battle with the North over its nuclear and ballistic missile program.
In brief comments to reporters upon her arrival, Trump said she was “very, very excited to attend the 2018 Winter Olympic Games” was ready to “cheer for Team USA.”
In Seoul, South Koreans expressed hope Trump could reduce tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.
Go Mi Suk, 53, said she fears President Trump has an impulsive streak that could eventually get South Korea in trouble. She said she believes the president’s daughter can be a moderating influence on the president and helpful to South Korea’s interests.
“I know she’s her father’s daughter,” Go said. “I really do hope that she brings some level-headedness and calm to him, and I hope … she brings some of that peace to South Korea.”
Han Ki Soon, 51, said that by sending his own daughter at this fragile moment, Trump is showing special interest in South Korea. He said he only hopes Ivanka Trump has been given license by the White House to begin engaging the North Koreans.
“I hope if she meets (Kim Yong-chul) she is able to list what steps they can take towards peace,” Han said. “It’s a good chance for America to show its dignity as the most powerful country in the world.”
Ahead of her departure, administration officials said there were no plans for Trump to speak with the North Koreans. White House officials said the same about Vice President Pence as he led the U.S. delegation for the Winter Games’ opening ceremony. But the administration revealed earlier this week he nearly held a meeting with North Korean officials.
Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, said the North requested a meeting with the vice president during his South Korea visit. Pence agreed, but members of the North Korean delegation — which included the North Korean hermetic leader’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong — backed out at the last minute.
Pence and the younger Kim sat only a row apart during the opening ceremony, but the White House said that they did not even exchange a word.
During her visit to South Korea for the start of the Games, Kim — a stylish dresser and influential adviser to her brother — was often referred to by Asian media as “North Korea’s Ivanka.”
The comparisons chaffed many in the U.S., because Kim Yo Jong is a key member of an authoritarian regime that has threatened nuclear havoc against neighboring South Korea and the United States, not to mention vast human rights abuses of its own people committed by the regime.
Before she departed for Seoul, Trump took to social media to congratulate the USA’s women’s hockey team, which captured gold in a thrilling matchup with Team Canada on Thursday.
But she made no mention of the provocative decision by the North to dispatch Gen. Kim Yong-chul, who many analysts say played a central role in the 2010 torpedo attack of South Korean naval warship Chenonan that killed 46 South Korean sailors.
The pick of General Kim comes after the North’s warm reaction to the South during the first days of the Olympics. It appeared the Games had created an opening for reconciliation between the Koreas, who are technically still at war more than 70 years after the nations were split.
Weeks before the Olympics started, the North agreed to dispatch 22 athletes to compete under a unified flag with the South.
And the usually bellicose Kim — in the not-so-distant past he’s threatened the South with nuclear annihilation — offered a measure of praise for the South Korean’s handling of the Olympics. He also invited Moon to come to Pyeonyang for talks.
The South Korean government’s unification ministry made no mention of Kim’s alleged connection to the Chenonan attack as it confirmed that they were expecting the general to travel to Pyeongchang for the closing ceremony Sunday.
“We expect the high-level delegation’s participation in the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics to help advance the process of settling peace on the Korean Peninsula including the improvement of inter-Korean relations and denuclearization,” the unification ministry said in a statement. “Against this backdrop, we will accept the visit of North Korea’s high-level delegation to the South.”
Contributing: Michael Jun Lee